Sharing the buzz from Clinton to Kenya

How can keeping a hive of bees build a community? For Ned and Sharyn Farrell, founders of the Bee Happy Company, it's obvious. Bees are perhaps the most industrious, organized species on earth and one that humans depend upon more than we realize.

The Clinton-based couple started their honey and beeswax skin-care product business two years ago. Bee Happy products are sold at farmers markets and stands, including in East Lyme, at Ashlawn Farm in Lyme, the Hay House in Old Saybrook, plus specialty shops like Perk on Main in Durham.

The Farrells are as much on a mission to teach people about bees as they are to sell products. Ned Farrell came to beekeeping through his stint in the Peace Corps in the 1980s. In Paraguay he helped the locals build hives, tend bees and migrate away from raising cotton, a crop that strips nutrients from the soil. He returned home, continued with beekeeping and stayed in touch with keepers around the world.

"Our whole platform is to save the honeybees and to teach other people how to do beekeeping," says Farrell. Bee colonies across the country have been declining because of a predatory mite, Colony Collapse Disorder, and loss of supportive habitat. Farrell says the wide use of chemical herbicides to keep clover out of yards and broad spectrum insecticides that kill beneficial bugs as well as any intended pests are increasingly making bees a rarity across America.

Farrell is a bee apostle. His pitch boils down to this: We need to save the bees so they can save us and our ecosystems, in both developing and industrialized countries.

In the U.S., beekeeping is being rediscovered as a hobby and as a sought-after local wonder food. In the developing world, Farrell says, it can be more. He figures that anywhere there are industrious people and bees, with the right support, they can develop sustainable, growth-oriented businesses that create income, empowerment, useful products and food.

He made this pitch last April at the Global Health and Innovation Conference at Yale, the world's largest global health and social entrepreneurship conference. That's where he met Alice Atemo Mwaro, superintendent of the Overcoming Faith Academy, three schools for more than 900 orphaned children in Kakamega, Kenya. Her schools are partnering with Tucklets.org, a nonprofit organization started nine years ago by Kathleen Tucker of San Diego, Calif., to help the orphaned children.

"We realized we could work together to help the people in these impoverished communities," Farrell says. "I could create the self-sustaining business pitch, with bees; they have the contacts and the place where this is needed."

The three entities have collectively named their venture Bee Happy Around the World. It's a model of giving people not only the training but also the resources they need to launch a self-sustaining business.

"The thing that was missing was money to bring this about," says Farrell, so the three organizations turned to Start Some Good, a web-based crowd-sourcing platform that specializes in social enterprise, putting potential donors in touch with enterprising organizations. The Farrells used Kickstarter crowd-sourcer to help launch their own business.

"The whole idea of crowd-funding is for like-minded people to be able to find and support good ideas," he says. "A bank or corporation wouldn't give us money to go do this."

Bee Happy has until midnight Wednesday, Nov. 20, to raise $15,000 on the StartSomeGood.com website. That's their "tipping point" to launch the Kenyan project; their goal is to raise almost $25,000. The way the site works, if the initial amount is not met by this deadline, no donor's credit card or Pay Pal account gets charged, says Farrell.

Bee Happy has sweetened the pot with incentives. Give $20 and your name will show up on one of the Kenyan beehives; $100 gets 50 percent off on an order of Bee Happy products plus a personalized thank-you card from a Kenyan student and the named hive. Give $300 and you also get handmade artwork from one of the Kenyan students.

The plan is for the Farrells to travel to Kakamega, Kenya, in April 2014 and spend three weeks working with the orphanages. They'll teach the people there how to keep bees, to produce a self-sustaining food crop and source of income, build the hives with them and procure the bees from Kenyan beekeepers.

A Kenyan university will be involved and materials will be collected or purchased locally. The Kenyan participants are planning to form a cooperative to help perpetuate the beekeeping operations. The first honey and beeswax could be harvested in December 2014.

The Farrells and their newfound partners see this venture as only the start of development efforts that can be replicated in other countries, wherever there is a need to bring together training and resources to start up self-sustaining ventures. For details, see startsomegood.com/BeeHappy and email BeeHappy@happiary.com.

Ned and Sharyn Farrell are Suzanne's guests on her radio show, "CT Outdoors," on Tuesday, Nov. 19, from 12:30 to 1 p.m. on WLIS 1420 AM and WMRD 1150 AM. The show also streams live and in the online archives at www.wliswmrd.net.

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